The Known Unknown: Berlin’s Hansaviertel

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been to a place countless times but you had no idea how special a place it is? There is quite a fascination to the discovery of already known places. In this case it is the Hansaviertel in Berlin, an area that I had always thought of as being situated somewhere else and that holds famous architecture of some of the most renowned architects of the Bauhaus, Neues Bauen and Modernism, such as Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, and Max Taut.

Only last year did I begin to explore the architecture of Berlin, which is an exciting place in this regard. Berlin is not exactly a beautiful city in a conventional sense, but its history has led to the most unusual, if not unique, developments. The grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century was followed by a war that left Berlin in rubble. The Cold War that ensued and led to the separation of the town and its people by the Berlin Wall turned Berlin into a battlefield of the architecture of two opposing systems – without actually having any money for it. Reunification, the moving of the government from Bonn to Berlin and the latest boom have added to a seemingly endless frenzy of a city that never ceases to change, a city that is never finished. You leave Berlin for a week to go on a holiday and when you come back, you won’t recognise it.

The Hansaviertel in the heart of West Berlin saw its splendour of exuberant Gründerzeit style houses almost completely destroyed in 1943. Ten years later Berlin decided to build a model future city on its grounds and invited the biggest international star architects to develop a new settlement – in rivalry to the truly gigantic and monumental Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee), that was being built in East Berlin. Both East and West wanted to show to the world that it is they who provided the best living conditions to their respective citizens. While the Stalinallee provided representative flats in which you can easily get lost, the Hansaviertel was equipped with small flats in primarily functional buildings of small, medium and high-rise format, loosely scattered, each surrounded by specifically designed green space. Two Brutalist churches, an underground station, a shopping area, a cinema (now a theatre), and a library as well as some cafés and restaurants (schools were nearby) completed a mostly independent living unit.

As I leave Bellevue S-Bahn station I’m greeted by two of the five highrisers (“Punkthäuser”) from 1957, when the new settlement was presented as the site of the Interbau exhibition. Are they pretty? No. All of the houses had to be built with as little money as possible and it shows, just like their age. Right behind them is the familiar Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), where I saw Macbeth, Brave New World and The Grapes of Wrath in the English language as a teenager. It presents itself in a modernist individual, yet modest style with a naked Henry Moore bronze sunbathing. Smaller houses that remind me of the holiday camps of my childhood pop up here and there. They look as if living here is attractive. All the houses have their balconies directed towards the south and the green space makes the whole place look very comfortable. It’s mostly clean and graffiti is rare. Yes, I understand why the people who moved in in the 1950’s and 60’s have never moved out. Beauty in an aesthetic sense is not a criterion to apply here, but a highly individual character of each single building can’t be denied. It is this specific character that you get when every single building has a different designer.

The most famous of them all is the Oscar Niemeyer Haus, Niemeyer’s only building in all of Germany. It is a crazy one: it stands on filigree feet, which makes you wonder how they can possibly carry such a large building. The lift, that stops only at two floors, is kept in an extra tower outside the house. London residents may know the Balfron Tower (1967) that has a similar concept (but looks less pretty…).

The lofty, green Hansaviertel, that is situated right between the two city centres, feels like a world of its own. But then again every Berlin Kiez does, each an intriguing little universe in itself. I can’t wait to explore the next one.

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Thanks to Ian and Jason for their support.

Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Arch

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The kids picked Arch as the theme for #Halftermphotofun and in my mind I thought, ah it’ll just be all bridges and churches and while we certainly got some of those we had lots of other great interpretations proving yet again that my kids know better than I do.  The humble arch is, once you start looking, everywhere around us both in nature and the built environment as it it is the building block to so much of the world around us from an architectural point of view.  Writing that sentence I’ve just noticed that architecture begins with arch !  I did know that there were different styles of arch but didn’t realise that there were quite so many designs, I think I came across about 15 styles doing a little bit of research – the Ogee arch anyone ?  I’m not sure how many styles we’ve managed to have represented here but quite a few I reckon.

What I particularly liked when you see all of the arches together here is how inquisitive it made me feel, what’s through there ? adventure ? mystery ? are they portals to another world ? and then there were the different interpretations, arch enemies/ rivals of the rugby team forming an arch in the scrum, the arch of the foot or the eye, the fun the little boy is having making an arch and I think it was this photo that made me put the family photo at the top, if you can’t find an arch you can just make your own.

As always thanks so much to all of you who took part contributing and interpreting throughout the week, it’s been great fun as always.  I hope I haven’t missed any out but if I have then do get in touch and I’ll amend the gallery.  We’ll be back for Easter, unless we throw a random weekendphotofun in so if you are reading this and want to take part then you are more than welcome, just follow me on twitter @ianstreet67 or keep an eye on the twitter hashtags #halftermphotofun, #easterphotofun, #summerphotofun etc you get the drift.  Thanks everyone.

Generative Art

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As I often do on a Saturday morning I popped into @coloursmayvary to check out the latest publications and give my eyes a visual treat with the lovely prints to buy.  As well as being a gorgeous shop they often have stuff going on, the other week they had old school printing machines in there and they’d been running letterpress workshops, today there was this huge mural that you could get busy on.  It’s been created as part of the run up to the British Art Show which is coming to Leeds in October and will apparently feature the largest collection of contemporary art in the UK.  Prior to this there will be all sorts of activities in the run up to the launch.

The illustration / mural above is part of the lead in, it’s been created by three artists with a Leeds connection – Lucas Jubb, Jay Cover and Kristyna Baczynski - each one of whom has created elements that have then been generated by code to produce this huge mural.  Apparently this is a new process called Generative Art/Design.  We the public can then get involved and colour in the mural and when it’s complete it will tour round Leeds in the run up to the British Art Show.

Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of colouring in ?  I found it quite hypnotic to sit there grab a pen and fill bits of the mural in, as you are colouring, little bits of the city appear – The Corn Exchange, Town Hall, Broadcasting House all connected in a random fashion (presumably due to the programming code) with swirls and a myriad of different shapes.  As I was trying to stay between the lines (not always successfully) it made me ponder a bit about Leeds and it’s future and perhaps this mural represents the ideal vision where technology, collaboration and interaction form the basis for the city and it’s people to thrive?

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December Photo Fun Week 4 – 2014 – Mix

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A somewhat quieter week this week for the Mix theme set by the kids, which was of course totally understandable with it being Christmas week.  Nevertheless there was still a nice collection (or mix) of photos sent in depicting various interpretations of the theme, drinks, food, play, bikes, people, presents etc.  I particularly liked the photo above which has all sorts of mix within it, old and new, different styles of architecture, graffiti, rubbish and tidiness.  It in many ways encapsulates the jumbled chaos of much of our towns and cities where different styles and periods mix in different states of harmony.  I find it fascinating to wander around looking and alternating between wonder and bafflement often in the same street.  I suspect that it has always been thus though as society changes and different interpretations on how we want to live and work get built upon the ruins of the outdated / defeated.  Where I grew up there is easy evidence of iron age hill forts, then Roman ruins right through to industrialisation engineering features and onwards to glass edifices and everything in between.

That was my take on the mix week but as always I’d love to here what interpretations you liked.  As always huge thanks to all who took part.  We have one final week which will run through into January but because the week starts in December then we will cover the whole week.  Click on the gallery below to open it up so you can scroll through the pictures.

December Photo Fun – Week 1 – 2014 – Twist

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The kids have come up with some really interesting themes for the few weeks of December and kicked things off with Twist and I must admit it put me in a somewhat philosophical mood.  When they came to me with the theme I immediately thought of books and the twist in the tale and as I was looking through the bookshelves of course I came across Oliver Twist, not what I was originally looking for but a good take on the theme I thought.

As I was thinking I was shaken by the first photo that came in – a twist in the skeleton from Lyndon.  Now Lyndon has recently undergone a pretty horrific accident while out walking in the lake district, he fell, badly injuring himself and there he lay for seven and a half hours waiting, hoping and I’ve no doubt praying to be rescued.  Lyndon is an experienced outdoor person so he had left details of where he was going and when he did not return the alarm was raised and Kewsick Mountain Rescue team eventually found him and he was airlifted to hospital.  He is now starting the long road to recovery and rehabilitation.  I don’t normally ask for donations for anything but for those of us who explore off road in the woods and the hills, on foot or bike the Mountain Rescue and air ambulance teams are our lifeline so if you can spare anything then please consider them.  They save lives.

Lyndon’s accident made me think about the subject of twist, a twist in the tale is not reserved for novels, it can happen to any of us at any time none of us really know what’s around the corner.  Hopefully it won’t be falling off a mountain but mountains are not just made of rock they exist for many of us in our imaginations and the trials and tribulations that we face in life.

As always there have been some lovely interpretations this week, I’m never sure if people will take part but it’s so nice that people take the time to play along with us.  We really appreciate it and once everything is pulled together the gallery looks great.  If you click on the gallery you can scroll through the pictures in the size they came through.  Do let us know which ones you liked.  We’ll be playing #Decemberphotofun throughout the month so check out the hashtag on twitter or follow me @ianstreet67 all are welcome to take part.

Get well soon Lyndon :-)

Scavenger Hunt

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City centres are, much to my dismay at times, places that seem to exist purely for commerce they are not generally somewhere where you go to play but they are full of all sorts of building, objects and people and so in many ways they are perfect places if you think of them in different ways.  Doing the photo fun projects that we do has helped me look at my city through different eyes as I try to interpret the themes set by my kids.  I cycle through the city most days which odd as it may sound enables me to turn the streets into my own private play ground, not in the stunt cycling way, but just in the way that cycling instantly transports me back to my childhood.

Today we used the city centre as a different type of playground as we undertook a family scavenger hunt.  I’d been chatting to my kids recently about a scavenger hunt I’d done when I was a kid and they liked the idea of this.  One of them said could we do one and perhaps could we go into Leeds to do it so this morning we split up into two family teams and standing outside the city museum we were handed our list of things to find that one of my kids had created and set off to see what we could find.

It was a great list, split between photographs of things and objects:  The full list was this

We needed to find the following photographs:

  • One of the team in front of something that begins with a J
  • Something that sums up the best thing about Leeds
  • Graffiti
  • A woman wearing a green shirt
  • One of the team in a window
  • Something spotty
  • The adult of the team in front of a well known building
  • Something that is American themed
  • Something that sums up the worst thing about Leeds
  • The number 82
  • One of the team stood on / in front of a statue
  • Something beautiful
  • One of you with a hand dryer

Objects to collect / find

  • A leaf
  • A takeout menu
  • A receipt with the letter ‘k’ on it
  • A sample of a product
  • A stranger’s autograph
  • A leaflet
  • A train ticket

Some of these were relatively straight forward but the task was not just to find and/ or photograph the things but to try and interpret them in the best way we could.  I completely loved the variety of tasks we had, some of which asked us to potentially go up and talk to strangers, not something that I (perhaps like many of us) are totally sure of but hey most people are lovely and we got an autograph and photos of women in green shirts.  Also by not stopping for the first thing we thought of but keeping that as an option we moved on to better things, the yellow American school bus being a great example.  It was so nice to explore the city centre with one of my kids chatting away, getting their ideas for things we could interpret and seeing the city through their eyes as well.

When I asked what photo we could take that best sums up Leeds she simple said this here on Briggate right now, all sorts of people from all different cultures eating all sorts of street food from all over the world.  There’s hope for us yet.

I can hugely recommend this as a great way to turn the city into your own playground and have some fun.  Feel free to use the list one of my kids came up with and interpret it how you want or come up with your own list – put the kids in charge it’s great fun.  Do let us know if you go on a hunt and what you found.